Remaining Positive in a Negative Atmosphere

This guest blogger is a mother of two adopted boys, maternal brothers who were bounced around to four foster care providers and one failed foster-to-adopt family before she and her husband adopted them at age 3 and 5.5 years.  Resilience, humor, and self-care help her manage the day-to-day struggles of parenting children who suffered neglect, likely abuse and have biological parent(s) with mental illness.  

Every day is a challenge from the moment our kids wake to the moment they fall asleep – yelling, opposition, aggression, swearing, hitting, chasing, scary moments.  Yes, you may have support (or maybe not) from family, friends or an adoption group, but primarily, the world is full of  “typical” families who likely have no idea of your day-to-day.  I can relate to this, and have, after telling a friend about an incident, wished I hadn’t said anything, because while I’ll get nods or words of concern, they really have no sense of what I’m going through.  So after years of trying to make better outside connections and mostly failing, I’ve turned inward to remain positive in a negative atmosphere.  This is what works for me, my character and personality, and I’m sure you know yourself well-enough to figure out what can help you.  Mostly, it’s giving yourself the permission to put yourself first – before your kid(s), your husband/wife/partner, your to-do list.  And, you don’t have to do all these suggestions – it’s like dating: go out with one or more, and ignore the ones that don’t treat you right.

Exercise – I know it may be a bummer to see this first, but exercise doesn’t have to mean anything more than a twenty minute walk if not every day then every other day.  You’ll be amazed how it will free your mind to help resolve a nagging issue, trim your body a bit, give you more stamina, and allow you that dessert or other calorific treat you may avoid.

Bad News – I’m interested in local, national and world news, but when there’s a lot of reporting on horrific things, I choose to turn it off.  Negativity breeds negativity and if you’re already down about something, other bad news won’t help.  So don’t watch/listen for a couple of days or whatever it takes, or get your news from a Daily Show format which informs, but will make you laugh too.

Laugh – You’re tired at the end of the day, during the day, when you wake up (let’s admit it) and may not watch any TV/internet comedies.  Take the five minutes/day (or whatever you can spare) to laugh.  The Tonight Show is a personal favorite, (praise be to youtube since I haven’t seen 11:30pm for years) but I’m sure you can find someone you like.  It’s true – laughter is the best medicine.

Be kinda rotten – watch other’s parenting techniques and pat yourself on the back for how much you know how to handle tough situations that others cannot.  A tantrum in a store? – please.  This is nothing for us.  Your kid isn’t doing well in school?  Well try managing an IEP since kindergarten, and being two years behind academically.  Get over it.  You’re kid’s acting up on the bus?  How would you like a suspended kid and it’s only October?  We are strong and smart and those other parents really have to stop whining, (we say in our heads while we nod and offer words of encouragement.)

Shut the door – I can’t remember when I’ve really enjoyed dinner.  Combat begins as soon as we sit down.  So, occasionally, I leave the table with my plate and go to my room and shut the door.  It makes the kids think.  My partner can deal with it.  And I don’t feel guilty.

Do something that you like – and can feel satisfied by that is not child-related.  Because I don’t see much improvement on a day-to-day basis, I do home improvement.  Painting a room gives me an immediate sense of accomplishment and makes me feel good about myself – look what I did!  I am good at this!  Ach, that yellow really looks like pee.

Find a friend – maybe your lifelong friend doesn’t fit the bill b/c they can’t wrap their head around what you’re saying.  “Your kid did that, really?”  So it’s time to find a new friend, probably someone with kids like yours, who will listen and share.  Maybe it’s an adoption group, someone a street over, or on-line.  Being able to express, (and I mean express in every possible way – I swear a lot more now than I ever did) using shorthand and all the acronyms associated with our kids is not only a time-saver, but a great relief too.  I, for the first time since I was five, used the words, “I would like you to be my friend.”  Fortunately, she accepted and we meet once or twice a month to laugh, cry, discuss, share and always end with a hug.  (She often wears her husband’s deodorant and smells really handsome – which we also laugh about.)

So ends my first ever blog entry.  I’ve never been keen on advice stuff, and I don’t see this entry as that.  It’s a reminder to do what we know we should to make the days a little easier.  I’ve been at this adoption journey since 2011, and like the President of the US, I look a lot older than when I started…but not as handsome.

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How can overwhelmed adoptive families get the help and support they need?

Adopting an older child can bring great stress to a family when the child has significant behavioral problems, developmental issues and/or attachment problems. In some cases a child’s behavior is so difficult that a family will need to seek significant professional support and services. Parents confronting serious challenges should first communicate with their mental health professional(s) about the daily challenges and stresses they are confronting. The therapist may recommend family therapy and/or he may recommend a new course of treatment for the child or a referral to a psychiatrist if he isn’t already seeing one. The family should try to get a diagnosis for the child so they can move forward with appropriate treatment. If the situation does not improve with treatment parents may have to consider respite care to allow them to take breaks from the daily stress of raising a behaviorally disturbed child. They might also opt to send their child into residential treatment or to a therapeutic boarding school. Whatever plan they develop, parents should maintain a steadfast commitment to the child. Even if the child cannot live at home they should always consider themselves their child’s permanent family. Transferring custody of their child to a new family without agency involvement or legally dissolving the adoption should never be considered. The vast majority of adopted children will do well in their new homes but about ten percent of older adopted children will have significant behavioral problems. The parents and families of these children deserve the unflagging support and empathy of other parents, teachers, extended family and mental health professionals.

What can a family expect after their child comes home?

Children react differently to the stress that comes from being adopting into a new family.  Some are very fearful and show great anxiety about the change initially. Anxious children may seem nervous or angry, depending on their temperament. Other children act like everything is fine; they may be afraid to show what they feel or they have learned to survive different situations that they seem to adapt easily but this may just be a period of good-behavior (the “honeymoon”) followed by not-so-good behavior (the honeymoon is over). Some children, due to neglect, start gorging food and hoarding food, valuables or nonsense items like old paper/trash. It is important for a parent to understand what is the typical pattern of their child during times of stress—this information can be obtained from a previous foster parent, adoption worker, teacher, therapist, etc.—and you probably want to get all their perspectives so you can understand whether the behavior you see is typical or unusual for your child. You just need to know that there is a period of adjustment that can be challenging and chaotic as children test the commitment of the parents and try to figure out what it means to live in this family.

What is an attachment problem?

Attachment is a physical, social, emotional, behavioral and cognitive connection one person has with another; typically we think of it as the way a parent and child relate and feel about each other. When there is a problem, one or more of these markers for attachment is not strong or not in a pattern that suggest the person is securely connected to another. Children with a history of trauma—who have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, institutionalization—are at increased risk for attachment problems.  They may have distortions about how parents and children related to each other; they may be able to demonstrate physical contact indicating a connection but not have an emotional link to the parent. A secure attachment is one where all these markers are consistent with each other and is the optimal type of attachment. Many children, with consistent & loving caregiving, will begin to change their attachment pattern. However, some children have attachment difficulties that are so severe that they have a diagnosis and need professional intervention.

What are some of the issues and challenges an older adopted child may have?

Adopting an older child has been compared to entering a marriage; both parties come to the relationship with previous experiences, knowledge, values and skills. It takes work to make a marriage successful.  Older children are often survivors of terrible situations; they come to their families with behaviors that worked for them in the situation they were in but are often not as functional in a healthy and positive family environment.

Many children who are adopted when older have suffered trauma in their life. Traumatized children may demonstrate an array of emotional difficulties—fear, withdrawal, anger or depression. They may have behavior difficulties—poor interpersonal boundaries, not telling the truth, hoarding or taking things that don’t belong to them. Often, there are value differences between the adoptive parent and adoptee because both had a life and experiences before they joined together as a family.

Consistent love and commitment go a long way to changing these issues for the older adoptee. Parents will be challenged to figure out what they can accept and what they need to work out to help their child change. Sometimes professional help is needed as the adoptive family works on becoming a blended family.